18 Sep Coronavirus: Losing football clubs to COVID-19 would be a ‘national outcry’ | UK News
Football league clubs are warning of financial implosion if the return of fans to stadiums is further delayed with a second national lockdown potentially looming.
There are seven matches being piloted across the Championship, League One and League Two this weekend with 1,000 fans allowed inside.
But a target of 1 October for supporters to be permitted inside all sporting venues with up to a third capacity seems an increasingly unlikely ambition.
Steve Kavannagh, chief executive of Millwall Football Club, who play in the Championship, says the survival of the 72 football league clubs is in peril.
“If we can’t open then how are we going to sustain what football is?” he said.
“If that’s the case then someone’s got to look at it and say ‘do we want football in this country going forward or do we just want only the Premier League to remain and exist?'”
It has been almost seven months since any fans have been allowed inside Millwall’s New Den stadium and Mr Kavannagh says the club has lost millions of pounds as a result.
He is happily surprised that so far all the clubs in the football league have managed to survive the pandemic period but fears that will not last much longer.
“You’ll see clubs going out of business very quickly,” he said.
“I suspect within a month if not sooner. The owners can’t carry on with one hundred million pounds a month being lost by football [a figure calculated by the Premier League].
“You have to remember as football clubs we’re making losses in the first place and it was the owners’ goodwill that kept those community assets alive.
“We’re relying on that goodwill even more and I don’t know how long we can carry on relying on that.
“If a club goes under because of COVID and a community loses its club because they can’t sustain themselves then there should be a national outcry.”
League One Charlton Athletic are historically bitter local rivals of Millwall, but when it comes to getting fans back inside stadiums, football is united.
Their match against Doncaster Rovers on Saturday has been approved as one of the pilot events and the stadium has been fitted with signposting reminding supporters about social distancing measures.
Their manager Lee Bowyer recognises that having fans inside stadiums while coronavirus cases are rising is a divisive issue.
“I can understand it’s difficult times,” he said.
“But there’s got to be a time when we have to move on and what’s going on around us regarding COVID.
“But the most important thing is that we do it safe, we don’t want anyone to get ill, or pass on what they might have.
“As long as we stay away from that, we can use it in a positive way to show that we can start moving forward.”
While the Premier League is bolstered by TV money and sponsorship deals, the very survival of lower league clubs hinges on when they can get fans back in these seats.
Technology is likely to play a key role in this.
Experts at Movement Strategies, a crowd dynamics consultancy, use 3D modelling to examine how people are likely to travel around stadiums and look at how to decrease queuing times and crowding.
“Part of the strategy is to gather the information beforehand from the spectators about the size of their bubble,” said Simon Owen, director at Movement Strategies.
“Therefore they can plan accordingly, they will know exactly which seat they’re in.
“It may end up being different on a match by match basis. You might previously have had one plan that fits all and now it might be a little bit more responsive to who is attending on that day.”